Becoming the Master of your Environment

A Nutrition Ninja must be in tune with their surroundings at all times.  Becoming the master of your environment begins by building awareness of daily circumstances, interactions, and other happenings that may have become commonplace to your conscious brain.  You don’t need to have Jedi genes in your bloodline to do this.  Your mission over the next 7 days (starting now) is to see your day-to-day life in a new light, questioning your actions, and observing your own behavior patterns as they emerge. By the end of the week, you should have identified your greatest foes (behaviors, not people) and feel more prepared to battle your dietary demons before they even step out of the shadows.

Step 1: Become a Master Observer

It’s probably safe to assume that you’ve been tying your shoes so long you have no idea if you grab the left or right lace first.  Yet, your shoes always get tied successfully somehow.  Perhaps you rethought your methodology that one time you bought bright blue telephone cord laces, but for the most part, tying your shoes has become a subconscious habit.  We all have many of these sorts of behaviors that help us to navigate our way through each day.  Not having to overthink every behavior allows your conscious brain to focus on more important matters, like “Did I remember to wish my brother Larry a Happy Birthday yesterday? Is chocolate swirl cheesecake his favorite?”  Overall, I would call the shoe-tying behavior a helpful habit.

But not all behaviors are so clear-cut.  Let’s say that every day around 10am, I stroll to my friend Suzy’s desk to see how she is doing, and we end up chatting for a few minutes.  Suzy, being the kind-hearted woman she is, has a candy jar on the corner of her desk that is always brimming with an array of sweets, and not that stepped-on leftover mini Halloween stuff…this woman goes all out (insert favorite imagined candy here).  Suzy always seems delighted to see me, and while we are chatting, offers me a treat from her jar and of course I delightedly say, “Yes, thank you.”  My takeaway observation here is my daily chat habit has become a daily candy habit.

As a Nutrition Ninja, you must know how to defeat your greatest dietary demons when they rear their ugly heads.  Like those annoying zombie-like Pac-man ghosts, they are destined to return from the grave and you’re going to have to go Buffy on their asses all over again to keep your teenage boyfriend safe.  (Hey he’s got the looks and you’ve got the brawn, it works!)  So, let’s make a plan of attack to smoke these zombie-vampire-demons, right?  Not so fast!  In order to design an effective attack strategy, you must understand your enemy.  And the best way to learn what makes your enemies tick is to observe them in action.

Starting right now, your assignment is to become an active observer of your behavior.  Likely your shoe-tying habit has little to do with the Nutrition-related goal you wrote down earlier.  What I want you to focus on are the behaviors that may have an effect on you progressing towards your goal.  I want you to get deep with yourself this week.  Begin to really question what you do and why you do it.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  • What are the 3 most obvious behaviors have kept me from moving towards accomplishing my goal in the past?
  • If I am really serious about accomplishing my goal, what behaviors would I need to practice regularly make forward progress on a daily basis?
  • What little tiny subconscious behavioral habits do I have that may be adding up into a blockade that make it feel impossible for me to get any closer to my goal?

Decide if each of the behaviors you identify is a friend, enemy, or frenemy to you moving forward, toward the success of your goal.  ‘Friend’ behaviors are those that are clearly helpful (i.e. I stop eating my when my tummy is contently filled).  ‘Enemy’ behaviors are those that are definitely hindering your progress (i.e. I eat 2nds or 3rds at dinner until I feel really stuffed and guilty ).  ‘Frenemy’ behaviors are those that seem are conditional, and can be loyal to either side depending on the way the wind blows.  (I sometimes stop eating dinner when I’m full if I eat dinner with Jeff) The more deliberate and detailed you are in your observation, the better.  The goal of this exercise is to identify the ‘enemy’ behaviors you are up against, and begin to see how and possibly why they occur. If it feels like you’re a cop who went in to bust a simple drug possession and in the process you effectively uncovered a smuggling cartel, you’re on the right track.

Step 2: Practice Being the Master of your Environment

We’ll take a deep dive into setting up an attack strategy next week, but as your enemy behaviors emerge, begin practicing making changes in the way you do things.  Ask yourself, “What can I do differently that I would find helpful?” and “What haven’t I considered trying before?”

The changes you make don’t have to be huge, however they should serve one of these two purposes:

  • Remove a barrier (big or small) that stands in the way of your progress, making it easier for you to practice ‘friend’ behaviors more regularly
  • Add positive stimuli to the practice of ‘friend’ behaviors, things that make you enjoy performing them more often

Let’s look at a couple examples:

Let’s say your goal is to eat a healthy breakfast every day.  You usually wake up 10 minutes before you have to leave and run out the door in a flurry of combing and bleary-eyed stupor.  You’ve tried setting the alarm to get up earlier, but you always hit the snooze.  What about making breakfast the night before?  A peanut butter sandwich or an apple is even something you can safely leave in the car if it’s better for you to try to eat at work.  The fewer barriers that exist between you and breakfast, the more likely you are to actually eat it.  What about setting up your coffeepot the night before so that it starts brewing a ½ hour before you normally get up?  Does the smell of hot coffee rouse you?  If you can bring a positive stimulus into your new routine, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Perhaps your goal is to snack more healthily.  Have you tried physically re-arranging your food stores?  If you put healthy snacks you like at eye level in the fridge and in the cupboards (yummy positive stimuli), and hide the bad stuff from plain sight (remove that big Oreo-shaped barrier), you’ve made it just that much easier to make a healthy choice. What about literally breaking into your happy dance the moment you realize you chose celery and hummus over cheese-its?  As cheese-tastic as this sounds, the more positive stimuli you surround a behavior with, the more likely you are to repeat it.

If the changes are helpful, continue to practice them.  Challenge yourself to practice your Ninja bravery and try something outside your comfort zone.  As I said before, no one is born to Ninjahood.  You and I both know that 5 second video you posted on Facebook displaying your sweet nun-chuck skills took at least 6 hours of practice.  To be consistently good at anything that is important to you, you must practice.

Join me next week for the next exciting installment of Nutrition Ninja Training : Plan of Attack!

Same time, same place, same channel 😉